Mini-retreats offer women relief from everyday stresses and life changing events – Horses provide the healing power

Joanne Holmberg | September 10, 2008

liz & zoomieClinics for cancer survivors on Sept. 17 & Oct. 8 at Arizona Cowboy College
RIO VERDE – When you meet Liz Gilkey, founder and CEO of the Whispering Horse Equine Experience, she uses the phrase “Journeys Interrupted” to relate how life events have affected the participants in her workshops. Liz describes this portion of one’s life as “we thought our lives were going to travel a certain path, yet most of us have found ourselves on an entirely different journey than we expected.” Her personal path has taken her through the death of her 16 year old daughter in a violent car accident right here in Cave Creek 15 years ago. After this major life changing event, she discovered the healing powers of her own horse, Zoomie, and decided to share it with others.

Liz started her own company, Whispering Horse Equine Experience, to conduct clinics for women who have experienced a “journey interrupted” by cancer, the death of a child, divorce, mental illness, abuse, sickness, a child with special needs, addiction, etc. Previously, Liz co-founded the CCUSD Model for Equine Facilitated Character Education whispering horseProgram, based on her 22 years of teaching experience at Cave Creek Unified School District. As one mother aptly commented, “My boys were taught to really think about the way they act and the impact their actions have on others. Working with the horses in a non-verbal manner pushed them to show respect and compassion through positive reinforcement in a way they never had before.”

The goal is to “find the strength, endurance, and confidence of which we never dreamed,” according to Liz. These workshops are not about the horse, but rather what the horse can teach. And in the process of working in groups of 10-12 it is a networking opportunity and time for personal growth. “We want our participants to leave with the insights and tools they glean from interactions with horses and make new friendships.” One of the most important lessons a participant ascertains from a clinic is recognition they are not alone in their experiences.

zoomieLiz and her fellow facilitators, Lisa, Sharlene and Christy, are horseowners, but they emphasize that participants do not have to have any prior experience with horses. The next clinics planned are for Cancer Survivors on Sept. 17 and Oct. 8. Upcoming clinics include ‘Women Experiencing Divorce’, ‘Mothers with Children with Health Issues’ and a ‘Fun Filled Day at the Ranch’. The Whispering Horse will also customize clinics for a group’s personal needs. Leadership Programs are being planned for adults at the corporate level and for kids next summer in the form of summer camps. The programs are held at Arizona Cowboy College in Rio Verde and Spur Cross Ranch in Cave Creek.

For more information or to register for the Cancer Survivor Clinics, contact Liz at 480-227-0617 or visit their website

Top photo: Liz Gilkey, founder and CEO of The Whispering Horse Equine Experience with Zoomie.

Middle photo: Helping cancer survivors (l. to r., back row) Elaine Pawlowski, facility manager of Arizona Cowboy College, The Whispering Horse Facilitators: Lisa Wierck, Christy Nance and Sharlene Jarosek. Front row, Liz Gilkey, founder and CEO of The Whispering Horse Equine Experience, and Lori Bridwell, owner of Arizona Cowboy College.

Lower photo: Zoomie, one of the horses used in the workshops, is a mustang adopted by Liz Gilkey from the Bureau of Land Management program. The white mark on her neck is a humane “freeze” brand applied by the BLM.

Courtesy photos